Chard is a sturdy, leafy vegetable that comes in various colors. Red chard (红厚皮菜, hóng hòu pí cài), cultivated in southern China, is especially beautiful with deeply green leaves and strikingly red stems. It tastes quite bitter when raw but the bitterness mellows as cooking time increases.
Let’s start with the mushrooms. If you are used to Chinese cooking, you know these as black mushrooms. If you’re familiar with Japanese cooking or are a native speaker of American English, they’re shiitakes. Either way they’re good. Unlike some things, these mushrooms are excellent both fresh and dried, so even if you like cooking with fresh mushrooms I recommend keeping dried shiitakes on hand, because reconstituting them in hot water is so simple and it creates a wonderful and versatile broth in the process. In fact, when I made this recipe, I started with dried shiitakes and then used the broth from their reconstitution as the base for a delicious meatball soup that accompanied the meal. Dried black mushrooms look like this:
If using dried mushrooms, soak them for about 30 minutes in hot water and then drain. Either way, fresh or dried, slice them up.
This recipe combines two savory sauces for depth. Both of those are easy-to-find staples in Chinese cuisine. The first is spicy bean paste (辣豆瓣酱, là dòubàn jiàng):
And the second is Lao Gan Ma spicy black bean chili oil (老干妈黑豆辣椒油, lǎogànmā hēi dòu làjiāo yóu). This adds a little bit of additional heat and also adds a bit of depth through the addition of the black beans. You want just about a teaspoon, not very much.
But of course, the star of this show is the chard. The leaves are big, firm, and sturdy, and you could almost imagine using them as giant fans to cool yourself with, should the heat of your kitchen become oppressive.
Cut up the chard into ribbons that are about as thick as your mushroom slices.
And that’s about it. Having come this far, your prep is complete, and it’s time to cook. By the way, this qualifies as a “simple” dish by TastyAsia standards, meaning that the entire thing, including soaking the dried mushrooms, can be completed in the time it takes to cook your rice.
INGREDIENTS and PREP:
- 2 tsp spicy bean paste (辣豆瓣酱, là dòubàn jiàng), 1 tsp Lao Gan Ma spicy black bean chili oil (老干妈黑豆辣椒油, lǎogànmā hēi dòu làjiāo yóu), and 3 cloves garlic cut into slivers
- 1 cup black (shiitake) mushrooms, fresh or reconstituted, cut into slices about 1/4″ thick
- 5-10 leaves red chard (or substitute other colors), sliced to match the width of the mushrooms
- Heat your wok on medium heat until hot but not smoking. Then add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Add the bean paste, chili oil, and garlic (#1) and stir-fry briefly, maybe 30 seconds. Don’t let the garlic brown.
- Add the mushrooms (#2) and stir-fry for another 30 seconds, so the mushrooms can soak up some of the liquid. Again, don’t let the garlic start to burn.
- Add the chard (#3). Continue to stir fry, perhaps turning the heat up a little. It may take up to five minutes before the chard wilts and the volume reduces, but eventually that will happen. Once it does, you have a decision to make: for a more bitter and crunchier dish, serve right away. On the other hand, you can cook for an additional five minutes or so, mellowing the flavors and making a more tender dish. (I recommend this.) If you don’t want to keep stir-frying for the whole ten minutes, you can add 3-4 Tbsp water to your wok, cover, and let it steam for the same amount of time.
- Serve with rice and contrasting dishes.
VARIATIONS: Any sturdy leafy vegetable will do, so if you don’t have red chard, substitute any other kind of chard, kale, mustard greens, or even green cabbage. Cooking times for green (western) cabbage will be comparable if not lengthened, but if you use Napa cabbage, cooking times will be significantly reduced. As with other vegetable dishes, you can play around with the spices quite liberally without doing anything wrong.
The essential Chinese pantry is here.